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Belmont Club

Liberalism: Out of a Job

July 8th, 2011 - 10:41 am

An Obama political aide argued:

People won’t vote based on the unemployment rate, they’re going to vote based on: “How do I feel about my own situation? Do I believe the president makes decisions based on me and my family?”

David Plouffe was responding to news that not only was Recovery Summer not in the offing, but that a Jobless Fall stood at the door:

Today’s Labor Department report shows that many people are still struggling in the current economy: the unemployment rate rose to 9.2 percent in June, and the economy generated just 18,000 net new jobs last month — making it the slowest month for job creation in nine months.

Since World War II, the only president to win re-election when the unemployment rate was over 7.2 percent was Ronald Reagan, and the rate was falling when Reagan won a second term in 1984.

While the economy will certainly be at the forefront of political debate in the next election, Plouffe said Wednesday that the presidential election will be more forward-looking.

“Their decision next year will be based upon two things,” he said. “How do I feel about things right now and then, ultimately, campaigns are always much more about the future and who do I think has got the best idea, the best vision for where to take the country?”

Plouffe was putting the best face on a catastrophe. There was nothing to do but dodge and weave. The president indirectly blamed Congress’ reluctance to increase the debt ceiling for the bad economic news:

President Obama pointed to the disappointing jobs report out Friday morning to make the case for quick action on a deal to increase the nation’s $14.3 trillion debt ceiling, saying that “the sooner that the markets know” a deal is done, the sooner they will have “the certainty that they will need in order to make additional investments to grow and to hire.”

But he must know in his heart of hearts that barring some unforeseen stroke of luck, the “recovery” is finished. He will go into 2012 with economic calamity on his back. Liberal blogger Jane Hamsher warned that the president’s party may cut spending and refuse to raise taxes in economic desperation, an act of betrayal which would result in the “death of the Democratic Party … as most of us have known it.” She correctly understands that — like Lenin’s New Economic Policy in 1921 — there would be immense electoral pressure to beat an ideological retreat:

What we’re watching is the death of the Democratic Party. Or, at least the Democratic Party as most of us have known it. The one that has taken its identity in the modern era from FDR and the New Deal, from Keynesianism and the social safety net. Despite any of its other shortcomings (and they are myriad), the Democratic Party has stood as a symbol for commitment to these principles. As recently as 2006, Democrats retook the House in a surprise wave election because the public feared that George Bush would destroy Social Security, and they trusted the Democrats over Republicans to secure it.

But that was before the public realized that real danger — not only to Social Security, but to their actual next meal — came not from the bogeymen trotted out by the media but from the “Democratic Party as most of us have known it.” The liberal project has finally run out of other people’s money. The public has engaged in an a posteriori evaluation of their beliefs and Hamsher correctly understands that it places the blame squarely down on the president and the ideology he espoused in coming into office.

Whether or not this is true is a matter for debate, but the political crisis now facing the president stems precisely from the fact that he is being held responsible for an economy that is falling in a seemingly bottomless abyss. The jobs report is likely to be only one of several pieces of forthcoming bad news: the sovereign debt crisis is spinning out of control in Europe, China’s bubble may have burst, Japan is still crippled from decades of stagnation made worse by a tsunami, the Middle East is in flames.

Not just “the Democratic Party as most of us have known it,” but the post World War II structure may abruptly be juddering to an end. We are living through the crisis of the elites, whose ranks encompass but a few of the “oligarchy” Hamsher fears. Big government, multinational institutions, giant welfare states, and large scale public sector unionism may be dying.

All her heroes are now wearing black hats and losing the gunfight. And they will not go gentle into that good night.

What the jobs report signals is the impossibility of President Obama’s reelection by any ordinary means at a time when in the eyes of the Left it has become imperative to achieve by any means necessary. Disappointed that the buttons aren’t working, they are prepared to push them harder. Whenever the Left has found its nostrums wanting, it has always responded with an act of faith in itself. The jobs crisis signals an existential threat to the liberal project, at least for now, and perhaps for years to come. It will be interesting to watch the response of a dream that is running out of money.

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